Among many careerists and politicians, tweaking one’s ethnic identity is becoming increasingly widespread.
Not long ago, the New York Times uncovered the artifact that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush had once listed himself as “Hispanic” on a Florida voter-registration form.
Bush is married to a Mexican American. He lived for a number of years in South America and speaks Spanish fluently.
Maybe he has consciously assumed a Hispanic identity. Or perhaps he did not think there was much of a difference between “white” and “Hispanic.” Or, as he said, he simply checked the wrong box by accident.
Vijay Chokal-Ingam, whose family immigrated from India, and who is the brother of sitcom-actress Mindy Kaling, recently confessed that he, too, once changed his ethnic identity in frustration over not being admitted to medical school. The dark-skinned Chokal-Ingam shaved his head, used his middle name Jojo, and was admitted to Saint Louis Medical School as a minority African American. Was he or was he not “black”?
Bush and Chokal-Ingam are not the only ones who may be confused about ethnic identity or may believe such identity can be assumed or alleged instead of being innate.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren for much of her career advantageously checked off “Native American” when under consideration for law professorships. Although there was no concrete evidence of any such ethnic pedigree, Warren simply cited her grandparents’ family stories about their heritage as if they were proof enough to claim official and expedient Native American minority status.
Former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill for decades masqueraded as a Native American activist. Apparently he either wished to be a Native American, or saw careerist advantages in feigning such a minority pedigree — or both.
Churchill’s ethnic get-up and long-successful ruse suggest that society does not quite know who is and who is not Native American — or even which criteria we should use to audit such claims.
During the Trayvon Martin shooting case, the New York Times apparently wished to diminish defendant George Zimmerman’s claim of minority status (he is half-Peruvian), so it coined the term “white Hispanic” for him.
Barack Obama, whose mother was a white American and whose father was a black Kenyan, used to go by the name Barry Soetoro (the last name of his Indonesian stepfather). Since college he has preferred his birth name, Barack Hussein Obama. Apparently at different times, a young Obama felt more comfortable with different ethnic nomenclatures — and what they conveyed to others.
In all these cases, ethnic identity apparently could be reinvented, or at least tweaked.
People can change their gender if they so choose or present themselves as either sex regardless of traditional definitions. Is race likewise becoming a shifting construct, often predicated on changing nomenclature, accent, dress, and superficial appearance?
Will “trans-racialists” assume another race in the manner that the transgendered now cross sexual lines?
Does the fact that many careerists and politicians can so easily get away with massaging their ethnic identities reflect the fact that race itself has become a meaningless construct? What is the greater fraud — creating or policing ethnic identities?
We are more likely to identify Senator Ted Cruz as a Latino than former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. That’s not because of appearance, but rather only because Cruz’s father was Cuban and he has a Latino surname, while Richardson’s mother was Mexican and he doesn’t have a Latino surname.
Had George Zimmerman just Latinized his first name and gone by his mother’s maiden name, becoming Jorge Mesa, would the New York Times have been so quick to render him a white Hispanic? Zimmerman, the person, remained the same. But were our views of him supposed to be conditioned by his particular ethnic construct?
When local newscasters trill their R’s, and hyphenate or add accents to their last names, are they afraid that otherwise their language, appearance, or lifestyle might not so easily showcase their minority status, which is a plus in the media?
Perhaps Jeb Bush could be called transracial. By virtue of his marriage, his Spanish fluency and his years of residence in Spanish-speaking countries, is he more Latino than are third-generation Americans with names like Nicole Lopez or Juanita Brown who speak no Spanish and have never visited Latin America?
America is a multiracial society due to immigration, intermarriage, and assimilation. Perhaps it is time to cut out the bumper sticker self-labeling and instead accept that in our ethnically mixed-up nation, race has become an incidental construct rather than essential to our careers and personas.
Otherwise, do we want to return to the one-drop rule of the Old Confederacy, or the ethnic spoils system of 19th-century Austria-Hungary?
Should we wear bright government DNA badges of various colors to authenticate our racial pedigree and to prevent the current epidemic of ethnic identity fraud?
© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
12 thoughts on “Is Race Following Gender in Becoming a ‘Fluid’ Identity Construct?”
I don’t know about wearing DNA authentication badges, but it isn’t pleasing to hear about all these frauds, and that’s what they are…..frauds. The left constantly installs race and gender into everything, so tired of it.
An old joke goes:
The Lone Ranger and Tanto, his trusted Indian companion, are surrounded by hostile, angry, shooting Indians.
The Lone Ranger says, “Tanto, It looks like we are surrounded!”
Tanto stoically says, “What you mean WE, white man.”
As the old proverb says, “Evil takes every advantage.” (Until Western Enlightenment stops it, dead in tracks!)
In grad school a mate of mine was awarded Hispanic student of the year. A blonde haired blue eyed man with a Scottish name who spoke not a word of Spanish, had never been to Latin America or the Iberian peninsula or the Caribbean or Mexico but by virtue of the fact that his mother was a white German born naturalized Chilean citizen fell backwards into the ‘Hispanic’ category. I suppose it all comes down to gaming the system for your own ends and nothing else.
Some assume a certain personal lineage due to a list of documents containing the names of parents, year by year, location by location. Such faith might be fraught with problems if the names on the documents aren’t the same as the people who actually engaged in the reproductive acts. Other people have few if any documents to begin with. None of it is a problem for those who will confess that they had absolutely nothing to do with selecting their own parents. That admission makes any pride or guilt about race a simply silly exercise.
Ethnicity slush can be annoying too.
I have friends with the last name “Armes”. They are not hispanic, they have no hispanic roots I know of. Moving to Modesto, they had a hard time getting Pac Bell to send them bills in english, not spanish.
“”” man made disaster: critics say california drought fox news.”” Cite your work and the dirty deeds of Brown, Feinstein and Boxer
I’m not a hypenated anything, I’m an American citizen.
I read that in Brazil, the degree of intermarriage is so great, that it makes it very difficult to fill in the ethnicity section of official forms, thus they find that section offensive.
Maybe the US can learn from Brazil, and instead of crowing about race, be offended by attempts to attribute it.
The saddest part of this whole story is that our government institutionalizes ethnic identity. I have grandchildren who are half of one thing and half of another. Should they check the box that gives them the most handouts? We will be better off when none of us are quite sure of our ethnic background. I am not quite sure of mine, since most of my family was in the US before the Civil War. It should not matter today.
The left has succeeded in manufacturing identities to go along with the priviledges they have invented–all the while preaching egalitarianism with elitist money. Republicans would do well to remember that populist rhetoric on the right is no less important than on the left. Self-righteously dismissing the populism of conservatism is to play a tune for an empty concert hall. The left openly touts the sky is falling unashamedly, but let us speak out about ISIS and all we here is “It’s Bush’s fault.” Dr. Hanson brilliantly inspires the point that if we can be what we want to be, then the whole categorization of humanity is one big subjective free-for-all leading to a world where the latest protected (and privileged) class is open to all who apply. Thus, proving the open, dirty little secret that the nonpriviledged, oppressive class is in reality a fiction we take on with little resistence. That is how straw men are defeated.
The hyphenated ethnic identifier seems to be another purely American invention. Americans seem to have an amazing fascination in desperately trying to stand out as unique individuals, in a country that prides itself on being the melting pot of the world.
In Europe, no one is anything but German, or French or British. Even Turks, and other foreigners, who have immigrated here and hold German passports are not, and do not themselves, identified as Germans but as Turks. The idea of check box to identify someone as a German-Turk, or Dutch-Russian or an African-Czech is impossible to even consider.
You are what your passport defines you by the citizenship you hold, regardless of heritage and the country your parents came from. While you might define a person by their national language, the Swiss always confuse everyone by having four recognized national languages; German, French, Italian and Roma.
We in Europe take pride in our individual countries and identify ourselves accordingly. Our languages, cultures and our heritages are individually unique and are thousands of years old. The idea of being hyphenated anything is just impossible even to the most liberal minded European.
I once heard someone describe the idea of the American melting pot as a food blender; where meats, fruits and vegetables are all thrown in and mixed together. The results, as one could imagine, are not so appetizing. However in Europe, we prefer the idea of being more like a garden salad; where we appreciate the individual flavors and how each contributes in it’s unique way to the variety and flavor of the whole.
We will be better off when our government throws out the institutionalization of racial identity. I can trace some of my family to Virginia in the mid-1600’s, and I know that I have a lot of Scots-Irish ancestors, but I do not really have much of a clue as to my varied racial/ethnic makeup. I have grandchildren whose parents are of East Indian and of Portuguese descent. What box do they check?. My father was a tradesman. Sometime in the fifties, he asked a fellow employee on a construction job what his background was, and the man said something to the effect that he didn’t know and didn’t care, and that since he was an American citizen, it should not matter. My father used that story to argue that we should not even be interested in where our ancestors came from, but only in what kind of characters they were. When I was younger, I did not agree with him, but I now think that he had it right. A few years ago, my wife and I hosted our son,s high school football team for dinner at our house. These boys were talking about racial/ethnic backgrounds, and an African American kid said, “I don’t really know what I am. What am I, anyway?” My wife suggested that he was an American, and that should be enough. He proudly said, “Yeah, I’m an American.” That should be enough for all of us.